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March 17, 2014

Record turnout for Wild Azalea Festival in White Springs-Destiny Brown crowned Little Miss Azalea

Jasper — On Saturday, March 15, thousands of visitors, including lots of four-legged critters, hit the streets of historic downtown White Springs for the 14th Annual Wild Azalea Festival, sponsored by the White Springs Special Events Committee and Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, and funded in part by a grant from the Hamilton County Tourism Development Council.

Aside from all the food vendors scattered around the grounds of the Nature and Heritage Tourism Center, several local restaurants were open and serving, including the Telford and Sharon’s Eatery next to Suwannee Bicycle Association headquarters, which just recently reopened. Raymond Cheshire also had the Adams Country Store open for viewing with curious visitors coming and going all day to marvel at all the antiques.

Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park Manager Michelle Waterman and her crew had a variety of activities for the children just outside the tourism center, such as nature journals, rock painting, bird detection and a migration game.

“We’re just offering things for the kids to do,” said Waterman. “My idea was to let the kids paint wild azaleas or whatever they wanted to paint.”

Speaking of painting, the kids were raving about their face painting artistry, proudly showing off their beautiful faces and even stopping to have their pictures taken.

Original Florida Highwayman R.L. Lewis, Jr. was busy painting another masterpiece inside the tourism center when he was interrupted by a special guest who had a very special gift for him. Mike Grecian, who owns a cafe in Lake City, and is an artist himself, said he has always been appreciative of Lewis’s work and decided to grace him with a box full of handmade oil brushes from Barcelona, Spain.

“I’ve worked with a lot of artists from all over the country, but I never got to meet a Highwayman,” said Grecian.

Lewis is one of the last remaining of the 26 original African American Florida Highwaymen artists. The Highwaymen were self-taught landscape artists who created over 200,000 paintings, despite facing racial and cultural barriers in the 50s and 60s. They made their living by selling their work door to door or out of the trunks of their cars along the east coast of Florida.

A festival isn’t complete without music and many local musicians and singers were onstage for about three hours. Also, among the many craft vendors was George Tortorelli from Wellborn with his beautifully handcrafted bamboo flutes that he played intermittently throughout the day.

The duck race was a big hit and the winning duck belonged to L.C. Strawder of Jasper, who received the grand prize kayak. Pam Pettijohn of White Springs came in second and won two tickets to this year’s Folk Festival. Third place went to Martha Scanlon of Lake Park, Ga., who won a night at the White Springs Bed and Breakfast.

The grand finale was the selection of Little Miss Azalea 2014, which went to Destiny Brown, a South Hamilton Elementary student who is battling cancer. Brown received a $250 gift card to Walmart.

There will be lots more photos online soon and photos will be available for purchase. Go to nflaonline.com and click the photo gallery link on the left navigation bar.

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